COLUMBIA, S.C. – The countdown to the 2016 season has dipped to less than two weeks for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks entered their fall camp with plenty of questions and headed into the school year Thursday with some answered and some getting closer to being settled.
We take a closer look at where things stand for the South Carolina offense as the Sept. 1 opener at Vanderbilt nears:
Who will be QB1?
The only place to start talking about the USC offense is the quarterback position, which is still in flux heading into the second scrimmage.
It remains a three-man battle between senior Perry Orth and freshmen Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley even though there was an expectation it would be narrowed to two players after the first scrimmage. After watching three open practices early this week, it became more apparent why Bentley still was in the mix.
The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Bentley is the most physically impressive of the bunch, and he made a handful of impressive throws deep downfield throughout the three practices. Will it thrust him to the top of the competition? Probably not, as he continues to work primarily as the third-string QB. But he has made a case for the player he is now and can be in the future.
So what we know at quarterback is three players are in the competition still and Will Muschamp is excited about the future of the position. We also can safely say Saturday’s scrimmage is another opportunity for someone to separate from the pack a little bit.
What they said – coach Will Muschamp: “I know one thing: The future at that position at the University of South Carolina is as good as anywhere in the country. I have a lot of confidence in that. As we continue to move forward, Saturday night is a huge night for all three of those guys. They are performing extremely well. I’ve seen a lot more positives than I have negatives at that position. … I’m not as worried about that position as maybe a lot of people are. I do like the skill set we have at the position.”
The Gamecocks have questions at almost every position on the field. One of the places they don’t really have them is up front on the offensive line.
From left to right, the Gamecocks figure to roll into Nashville with a starting five made up of the following six players: Mason Zandi, Zack Bailey, Cory Helms, Donell Stanley, D.J. Park and Alan Knott. The tackles are set with Zandi on the left and Park on the right, while Helms looks locked into center.
Knott, who likely would have been in line for a starting job before a hand injury, could be at one of the guard spots. He was working at left guard this week with Bailey not practicing.
But with that being the only real question mark among a group that defensive line coach Lance Thompson called “a real deal offensive line,” the Gamecocks are feeling pretty good up front.
We also know that Chandler Farrell is going to play this season as a true freshman.
What they said – defensive line coach Lance Thompson: “They’re big. They’re physical. They’re good kids. They’re hard-nosed. All those guys. To me, that’s the best thing about our situation right now. Every day, we are competing against a really good SEC offensive line.”
Turner first, but not alone
The leader of the running back pack since early in fall camp has been redshirt freshman A.J. Turner, who has separated ahead of Rod Talley, Bear Paulk and David Williams. But Muschamp said Thursday night that he’s not sure the Gamecocks will have a feature back and likely take a by-committee approach.
That has been evident in practices. Turner often is the first- and second-down back with the first-team, but then is replaced by one of the bigger backs on third down. That often has been Talley, who has shown well in camp. If Williams responds well through the rest of camp, he is going to have a role on this team that could increase as the season progresses.
What they said – coach Will Muschamp: “We are going to be a little bit by committee and feature some receivers in the run game and feature the quarterback in the run game.”
Wide receivers filled with youth
The wide receiver spot has become more settled more as camp has progressed. It’s clear that Deebo Samuel will be the No. 1 receiver, while Bryan Edwards is in line for a starting spot. It also looks like Jamari Smith will be the third starting receiver.
From what Muschamp said Thursday night to build on what wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon previously said, the entire group of freshman receivers will play this season. Korey Banks, Randrecous Davis and Chavis Dawkins all figure into the Gamecocks plans this season.
That leaves basically one spot to reach the eight McClendon said he hopes to have ready to play each Saturday. Christian Owens has flashed at points during camp, while Lorenzo Nunez has a lot of athleticism with a lot to learn about playing the position.
What they said – senior quarterback Perry Orth: “A lot of the young guys, the four freshman receivers that we brought in — Bryan, Korey, (Randrecous Davis) and then Dawkins as well — they all can make plays in space and they all catch the ball well and move well. That shows a really good job by our coaching staff to bring those guys in.”
Tight ends to play key role
If you haven’t heard about Hayden Hurst, get ready. The sophomore tight end is atop the depth chart and looks primed to be a very good tight end this season for the Gamecocks.
But he won’t be alone in contributing to an offense that, as Pat Washington described this week, will utilize versatile tight ends in a variety of ways. While Hurst has the makings of the top player in that group, K.C. Crosby, Jacob August and freshman Kiel Pollard all should have roles when Sept. 1 rolls around.
What they said – tight ends coach Pat Washington: “We are going to be pretty versatile in what we do. We will use two-tight-end sets because you can do a lot of things with those guys because they are athletic enough to be outside and inside.”
Mike Wilson covers South Carolina athletics for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the Gamecocks.